Bernice Summerfield
The Tartarus Gate

Starring: Lisa Bowerman
Big Finish Productions
RRP: 10.99
ISBN-13: 978 1 84435 129 9
ISBN-10: 1 84435 129 7
Available 18 September 2006

Benny is missing - kidnapped expertly, removed from time and space completely. Jason, of course, uses every means at his disposal to find her, but resources are limited at the Braxiatel Collection, which has its own urgent problems. Then he receives information on her possible whereabouts, from a benevolent religious order known as the CroSSScape. Why is Benny on Cerebus Iera, a planet on the cliff-edge of the universe, a planet that is known to be violent, dangerous and uninhabitable, a planet rumoured to have links to the Tartarus Gate, the mythical gateway to Hell...?

While listening to this audio drama, the opening story of Bernice's seventh (and re-branded) season of adventures, I couldn't help noticing that the silky tones of Neville Watchurst, as the collective voice of the CroSSScape, sound not unlike those of Gabriel Woolf, who played Sutekh in Doctor Who's Pyramids of Mars and the voice of the Beast in The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit. Now, on a planet at the edge of the known universe, the CroSSScape are attempting to open a gateway into Hell - which, the Tenth Doctor tells us in Army of Ghosts, is another name for the void between universes. Could there be a connection, I thought, with the recent series of Doctor Who?

I told myself to get a grip. This must simply be a coincidence. Stewart Sheargold must have written The Tartarus Gate long before The Impossible Planet and Army of Ghosts aired, and he almost certainly didn't have access to the BBC's scripts. Besides, hellish dimensions and edges of universes are common enough themes in science fiction and fantasy. Then our heroes discover a black hole in an impossible location. Now that's a spooky coincidence!

This is a sometimes confusing narrative, full of insubstantial and semi-substantial beings, with equally uncertain motives. However, its focus on Jason (Stephen Fewell) rather than Benny (Lisa Bowerman) makes a refreshing change.

And if you thought that the plot arc surrounding Braxiatel's manipulation of Jason's memories had been resolved in The Crystal of Cantus, think again. It sounds as if this storyline has quite some way to go yet. Maybe it will even tie in with the events of the final instalment of Big Finish's Gallifrey series.

Gate leaves things wide open.

Richard McGinlay